Via Akihabara News, an article about Japan’s latest robot, developed by the Ministry of Defense.

“Because the exterior is round, this machine can land in all kinds of attitudes, and move along the ground. It can also keep in contact with a wall while flying. Because it’s round, it can just roll along the ground, but to move it in the desired direction, we’ve brought the control surfaces, which are at the rear in an ordinary airplane, to the front.”

“In horizontal flight, the propeller provides the propulsive force, while the wings provide lift. For the machine to take off or land in that state, it faces upward. When it does so, the propeller provides buoyancy. At that time, too, the control surfaces provide attitude control. After landing, the machine moves along the ground using the control surfaces and propeller.”

“In our aircraft R&D, we have a plane that can stand up vertically after flying horizontally. But the problem with that plane is, take-off and landing are very difficult. As one idea to solve that problem, we thought of making the exterior round, or changing the method of attitude control. That’s how we came up with this machine, to test the idea.”

“All we’ve done is build this from commercially available parts, and test whether it can fly in its round form. So its performance as such has absolutely no significance. But we think it can hover for eight minutes continuously, and its speed can go from zero, when it’s hovering, to 60 km/h.”

Japan is known internationally for its robotics expertise, but too often the robots displayed are without practical applications — if not outright creepy. This came to a head when the Fukushima nuclear crisis began — and not a single Japanese robot was available to explore the damaged reactors. You can’t dance down a broken staircase in a ruined nuclear power plant.

Instead, American robots were deployed. Unlike Japanese robots, which often seem designed only for tinkering, shown off once and never heard of again, American robots have been designed for specific purposes: disarming explosive devices on the battlefield and performing reconnaissance missions. American robots have then been refined over 10 years of war to overcome design shortcomings. Although not specifically designed for inspecting damaged nuclear reactors, these robots were better able to adapt themselves to the mission.

This UAV represents a step in the right direction: a versatile robot able to recover from difficult situations. Still, with a 8 minute hover time and a lack of sensors, it resembles a robotic toy more than a durable, usable piece of equipment with practical applications.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch